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Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi accepts the Oscar for Best International Feature Film for "Drive My Car" of Japan at the 94th Academy Awards.BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters

Cameron Bailey is the CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival

I don’t have a take on the Oscars slap. Or a better take. I was at the Oscars, as a member of the Academy and in my role as TIFF’s CEO. And I was as shocked as anyone. But in the long days of online discourse since, as opinions have fractured along so many cultural fault lines, I don’t have anything useful or juicy to add.

I do have a question that echoed out of that slap, though. What exactly is happening to movies right now?

Watching this year’s show, and watching the evolution of Best Picture Oscar winners over the past decade, it’s becoming clear that the hostility toward some Oscar films is becoming as aggressive as that Will Smith-Chris Rock moment.

Here’s comedian Wanda Sykes, one of this year’s three Oscar hosts, on Jane Campion’s nominated western, The Power of the Dog: “I watched that movie three times, and I’m halfway through it.”

Here’s talk-show host Trevor Noah joking on The Daily Show that Oscar-nominated films strike him as, “Man in an Old Place. Woman Doing a Thing a Long Time Ago. Black Person Suffering.”

He went on. “There’s a disconnect, clearly, between what we want to watch and what we should watch.”

Well who’s “we”?

As online debates about movies take on more and more of the rage and impatience of the broader culture wars, it’s worth looking at how we got here, dividing ourselves into brawling camps, like The Outsiders, or Hunger Games alliances, or surviving members of the Yellowjackets.

One inciting incident for the current conflict is the growing divide between the films that win Hollywood’s ultimate honour and the films that win Hollywood’s biggest audiences. Some fans of the blockbuster hit Spider-Man: No Way Home were outraged that it failed to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination, calling it proof of the Oscars’ irrelevance. Some movie fans complained that they’d never heard of many of this year’s nominees, including Sian Heder’s CODA, the film that won Best Picture.

Marvel v. Arthouse isn’t a fair fight but it’s the fight we’re in. The best Marvel movies cost more, earn more and win much broader audience loyalty. The best arthouse movies are – I won’t say better but they are artistically more ambitious.

They need to be. Films like The Power of the Dog, for which Campion won Best Director, can’t draw on big-budget spectacle. They demand more from each viewer’s attention to enrich the experience. Where Marvel movies assume a deep knowledge of superhero mythology, Campion assumes a deep knowledge of the Western genre and her own previous explorations of feminine and masculine identities on screen. Her movies meet their audience at a different place.

Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, nominated for Best Picture and a winner for Best International Film, demands more careful attention not just to its story but to its technical elements, things like production design, editing or musical score – the same categories that were truncated in this year’s Oscars ceremony due to the demands of broadcast television.

At nearly three hours, Drive My Car is a long, immersive experience. But it’s almost exactly the same duration as The Batman. It’s not the runtime that divides challenging movies from broad entertainment. It’s the commitment.

Part of the commitment required by films like Drive My Car and CODA comes from developing an emotional relationship with actors you might not already know. This may be the biggest factor in the current standoff between arthouse and entertainment movies.

The Oscars used to be the place where artistically ambitious cinema and celebrity converged. Recently, Oscar success has pulled away from almost a century of being driven by star power.

For the most part, from its beginnings through the first years of the 21st century, the movies that won the Best Picture Oscar were movie star vehicles, from It Happened One Night to Casablanca to The Sound of Music to The Godfather to Terms of Endearment to The Departed. Winners without major stars, like Marty, were the rare exception.

Something happened in 2008, when Slumdog Millionaire went from winning TIFF’s People’s Choice Award to sweeping the Oscars, including Best Picture. Its lead actors, Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, were not stars at the time.

Since then, Best Picture winners have included The Hurt Locker, The Artist, Moonlight, The Shape of Water, Parasite and CODA. Of the last 10 Best Picture winners, only one, Argo, could be considered a true, large-scale movie star picture. Most recent winners have led with cinema before Hollywood celebrity.

That’s great news for cinema. That’s growth.

But celebrity is a helluva drug. As a society, we’re addicts.

So celebrity keeps popping up, fighting – sometimes literally – for attention. Awards shows and the long months of awards season are now a struggle between celebrity and movies that don’t always depend on celebrity.

So maybe we get to know international films with international stars better, people like Drive My Car’s Hidetoshi Nishijima, Parasite’s Song Kang-ho and The Artist’s Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo.

Maybe we treat movies like some of us treat sports and marvel at the pure talent and skill we see in the very best practitioners of the craft at the Olympics, for example, whether or not they’re famous at that moment. Maybe our attention to the very best makes them famous.

And maybe, if we don’t understand a film, like I don’t understand championship curling, we ask. We learn. We watch and pay attention until we get it.

Special to The Globe and Mail